Planned space missions face delays without Russian rocket engine

Nate Swanner - May 22, 2014
Planned space missions face delays without Russian rocket engine

Russia, who we rely on to get up to the ISS, is currently entertaining a ban on allowing the US use of their rocket engines. NASA, having hamstrung their rocket program not long ago, has no recourse for that action. SpaceX, which seems the only other option, isn’t quite ready for prime time. The fallout may cost the US $5 billion and delay up to 31 planned missions, The Pentagon says in a new report.

The Russians supply a rocket engine for space missions, the RD-180. That rocket engine is the only hope we have for getting to space, and workarounds are limited. According to the report, Atlas 5 — a satellite launcher — would be grounded due to the loss of RD-180.

The report cites 38 missions on the manifest, with 31 needing to be delayed up to three years without the engine. The company the US purchases the rockets from has 16 on-hand, with one promised to another program. In the rosiest outlook, the US delays nine missions for about two years, to the tune of $2.5 billion.

The worst case scenario is that as many as 31 missions are delayed an average of 3.5 years, which would cost an extra $5 billion. The committee also said manufacturing a US-made RD-180 won’t help the situation, nor would increased production on another US rocket, the Delta 4.

Long term, the comittee is recommending funding for a joint Air Force/NASA engine. The new engine would run on liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon, and eliminate our reliance on foreign parts. Sadly, it wouldn’t start production until 2016, and won’t be ready until 2022.

Source: Space News

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